When you’re female, thirty, and unmarried, being single becomes part of your personality.
Strangers make assumptions about you.
They might decide that you’re not ready to leave your adolescence behind. (“You’re immature.“)
You can’t settle down with another person. (“You’re selfish.“)
Or maybe you can’t find anyone who will date you. (“You’re crazy.“)
Especially if you like cats.
By the time I was thirty-two, I’d started making jokes about my spinsterhood. I did it to cut people off at the pass. If the topic of my being unmarried came up, which, somehow, it always did, I didn’t want to look like I was ashamed. Instead, I made jokes about being undomesticated and proud.
But somehow, my being single was a topic that everyone seemed to have an opinion about.
A younger woman asked me why I didn’t just marry my boyfriend. I didn’t tell her that it was because I suspected he was lying to me. (He was.) A man I worked with stopped into my office after every holiday and coyly asked to see my ring finger. “Do you seriously think people get engaged for EASTER?” I demanded, the last time he did it.
But the worst instance of single-shaming came the day before my thirty-third birthday.
I had to work late to attend a meeting. During that meeting, I volunteered a suggestion – helpfully, I hoped, and in complete earnest.
But my boss used that moment to shame me. I guess she thought my suggestion was strange, or less relevant than I thought it was.
Her words stung like a slap across my face. I sat there, shocked, angry, and embarrassed, and waiting for the meeting to end so I could slip away. I went home to my empty apartment.
My boss had no idea why I was thirty-two and “still single.” It wasn’t because I couldn’t get a date, or because I was picky (as she would later claim that she’d meant). It certainly wasn’t due to any lack of trying to find someone who would love me.
I was constantly trying not to be single. Growing up, I took it for granted that I’d fall in love and get married. But instead, I met guys at bars, through work, on Match.com and OkCupid, and it never worked out. I dated rich guys and poor guys. I tried a long-distance relationship, I lived with a man for a year. I let friends set me up on blind dates. I went out with guys in Mercedes, guys on motorcycles. Younger guys, older guys, dads, drug addicts, artists, and accountants. I was trying my hardest.
But I was still single.
The day after that meeting, I turned thirty-three. My friends planned a nice birthday for me, with lunch, presents, and a walk around a lake. I smiled in the sunshine, but something dark and sinister lurked behind every thought.
Now you’re thirty-three and still single.
As it would turn out, the very next day, everything changed. I met a man who would quickly become my best friend. A blissful year after that, he proposed to me, and nine months later, we were married. (I also ditched that job and boss.)
But even now, as a grateful wife, I sometimes feel a greater solidarity with my single sisters than the wives of the world.
Because I know amazing single women who both want and deserve love. Women who are more interesting, creative, and self-assured than plenty of married people that I know.
These are women who have used their time alone to take art classes or write books or rescue animals. They teach, they travel, they’ve mastered the delicate art of going to a party by themselves.
They’ve developed rich friendships, they’ve become devoted sisters, daughters, aunts, or mothers. Some of them have used their time to read, cook, get strong, or dream.
These are some of the world’s greatest women.
There are also plenty of amazing women who don’t want — or need — love. Like their more hopeful counterparts, they are becoming more and more awesome while they get better and better at being single.
So if you encounter a woman and find out that she’s not married, don’t ask her why she doesn’t just fall in love and get married already.
Ask her what she likes to do. Where to get the best meal or glass of wine in town. If she loves her job. Where she’d like to go on vacation. Ask her what she’s excited about.
She’s going to have something to say.